by James M. Wall
Things are becoming “curiouser and curiouser” in Wonderland. We have fallen into that deep hole with Alice where up is down and down is up.
“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
The Republican party should be hiding from pitchfork mobs angry because bankers, bonus babies, and venture capitalists have stolen 401-K retirement funds, closed factories, and shipped jobs overseas. But the Republicans are not hiding. They are gearing up to prevent Democrats from delivering a long awaited gift to American workers.
After six long years of being turned away by the Bush White House, labor unions finally have a president who is on their side. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has once again been introduced in Congress.
With Obama in the White House and both the House and Senate under Democratic control, EFCA should be rushing toward passage of what the Washington Post calls “one of the most significant revisions of federal labor law in 60 years.”
The EFCA bill is designed, according to an AFL-CIO web site to:
. . . enable working people to bargain for better benefits, wages and working conditions by restoring workers’ freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union; remove current obstacles to employees who want collective bargaining; guarantee that workers who can choose collective bargaining are able to achieve a contract; and allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.
Why are Democrats in the U.S. Senate on the verge of losing EFCA, a bill that would reform what has been called “a broken union election system”?
Big Business, currently the target of so much public anger, is fighting to block passage of EFCA. And it is winning.
Financial giant Citigroup Inc. is a major recipient of least $50 billion in federal bailout funds. Citigroup has brazenly thrown some of its money into fighting the EFCA with the fury of a wounded giant which still won’t confess the enormity of its guilt for the current financial crisis.
Government bailout funds used to influence a congressional vote? Here is the evidence:
Citigroup hosted a private conference, led by Glenn Spencer, a senior executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an ardent EFCA opponent. The call was billed as “An Update on the Employee Free Choice Act,” but its purpose was to demonize the legislation.
Sam Stein wrote on Huffington Post that Citigroup and Spencer made their case that EFCA will “inhibit flexibility,” “hamper companies from competing effectively,” and prove “cumbersome” for business.
Spencer said that “From the Chamber’s perspective, and I would say probably from the whole business communities perspective, there are really no amendments you could make to this bill that would make it acceptable.” In other words, no compromise. This is an all out labor-capital war and it is being won under a Democratic president with tax money used to bolster capital’s side.
Citigroup wore its bond rating hat to downgrade Wal-Mart’s bond rating because of fears that the Employee Free Choice Act could pass. A few weeks back Citigroup gave Wal-Mart a 9.5 rating out of 10. By lowering Wal-Mart’s rating on the day before Citigroup and the Chamber of Commerce demonized EFCA, Citigroup sent a message to members of Congress: Big Business demands the defeat of EFCA.
Citi spokesman Duncan Smith ignored this blatant mixing of bond rating and political strong arm tactics with conventional corporate spin, blandly stating that Citibank had a responsibility to advise clients on pertinent legislative matters.
“The role of Citi analysts is to make stock recommendations to investing clients, and in doing so they examine a broad range of factors that may affect a company’s market position.”
Stephen Lerner, director of the Private Equity Project for the labor union SEIU, told Sam Stein:
“Citigroup and the Chamber of Commerce have no shame. One day, Citi issues a report claiming it would hurt the stock of the Billionaire Walton family if free choice passes and workers win decent wages. Then they follow it up with a conference call where the Chamber of Commerce claims paying workers a living wage is bad for the economy.”
Is the public paying attention? One nation wide poll found only 12% of those surveyed said they were following the EFCA issue.
What about the voters in Tuesday’s New York 20th congressional district special election to replace newly minted U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Hillary Clinton’s replacement)? Gillibrand and Clinton are both Democrats. Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco are involved in a close race.
The 20th is a conservative district, but in this climate of anger toward corporate greed, the public mood should favor Murphy. But voters tell Democratic workers they are mad at the Democratic party for our current financial mess. Mad enough to reject a Democrat because of the excesses of Corporate America?
“Curiouser and curiouser”, moderate Democratic senators are not listening to what should be anti-corporate public resentment. Instead, as the EFCA vote looms, key Democratic senators are bailing out on Labor, a core Democratic constituency.
On EFCA, one time labor friends are looking the other way. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) co-sponsored EFCA in 2007. Now she is not even sure she will vote for it. Two web sites, Firedoglake and Who Runs Gov. com report Feinstein’s tortured reasoning.
Here is Teddy Partridge on Firedoglake:
A co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act back in 2007, California Senator Dianne Feinstein is, sadly, now the lone holdout among those previous co-sponsors in the state’s Democratic delegation in Washington. Feinstein has issued a statement saying that she likely won’t support the Employee Free Choice Act in its current form.
Greg Sargent gives Feinstein’s rationale on Who Runs Gov:
Feinstein spokesperson Gil Duran confirms to me that Feinstein hasn’t signed on as a co-sponsor to the current bill yet. He sends over this statement from the Senator suggesting that she’s leaning against backing it this time, at least in its current form:
“I have thought for some time that the way to approach this issue is by trying to see if there can’t be a compromise between the business community, the agriculture community and labor. This is an extraordinarily difficult economy and feelings are very strong on both sides of the issue. I would hope there is some way to find common ground that would be agreeable to both business and labor.” . . .
Even moderate Republican Arlen Specter (R-PA), who until recently was seen as a possible pro-EFCA vote, has chosen political expedience over principle. Specter faces a strong challenge in the 2010 Republican primary from conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey. After months of Toomey attacks against EFCA, Specter announced he will not vote for EFCA.
Among moderate Democrats, both Arkansas Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, are EFCA fence-sitters. Lincoln voted to break a Republican filibuster when the bill came up in 2007. Up for reelection in 2010 in a conservative state, Lincoln now hints she could vote against EFCA.
Arkansas may be the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but Bentonville, Arkansas, is the headquarters of Wal-Mart, now the world’s largest company in sales.
Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb) are reluctant to vote against Labor. They are also hoping for a compromise. But compromise is not what Labor wants.
The Nation’s Christopher Hayes quotes AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff:
Are you for unions or are you against unions? If you’re against this legislation, you’re against unions. You can’t say you’re for unions if you don’t think workers should be able to form unions without fear or retribution.
Acuff sounds like a man who grew up listening to songs from Pete Seeger, the balladeer of the labor movement. Seeger, who will celebrate his 90th birthday May 3, lived through the Great Depreession. When Pete sings Which Side Are You On, he is reminding us all that there are some occasions when you take sides for justice. EFCA is one of those. If you need a reminder of Pete’s passion, click here, and sing along.
Will the EFCA become law? Don’t count on it. Big Labor is not the powerhouse it once was. Democratic senators know they will find more campaign funds on Wall Street than they can find in labor union halls.
BILL MOYERS: The New York Times on Thursday had this remarkable full page graph, based upon the excellent work of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group you’re familiar with that monitors money and politics. They said, where Wall Street trades in political currency, and if you look at this you realize that political connections may be the new currency for deal makers. Right? And it shows which of the financial elites have contributed to which elite politicians.
WILLIAM GREIDER: Oh, this is nice.
BILL MOYERS: What do ordinary citizens do about this? How do they break this grip that money has- the patrons have on the politicians?
WILLIAM GREIDER: They trust themselves. I read a wonderful book about the Civil Rights Movement and SNICC and others in the South, in Mississippi, the most treacherous, backward place you could go, bring the issue of racial equality. And they said the organizers first goal was to learn to listen to these people, that they were poor blacks in Mississippi. The second goal was to convince themselves and these poor people to act like citizens even if- even though they knew they weren’t citizens. And you think about that. That’s kind of the mystery of democracy. People get power if they believe they’re entitled to power.
The labor movement is asking for a chance to organize away from the oppressive hand of their employers. It is a simple enough request. But will EFCA pass? Bill Greider has it right: democracy is a mysterious process. Power will go to the people but only “if they believe they are entitled to power”. Well, they are; and now is the time for the U.S. Congress to endorse that empowerment.